Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Five tips for Thanksgiving and beyond

So what’s your plan for Thanksgiving? Will you eat seconds of Granny’s sweet potato pie, stuff yourself with heaping spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and eat yourself into a stupor that leaves you feeling tired and bloated by mid-day?

Will you cap off the day by hustling over to a shopping center in a frenetic hunt for deals, only to get stressed by trying to find a parking place and reaching more deeply into your wallet than you can really afford?

After years of writing and editing health stories, here are five key things I’ve learned about  how to pleasurably, healthfully, sanely navigate Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season:

  • Before loading up your plate during a holiday meal, think about how you want to feel afterward. That forward-thinking moment can mean the difference between enjoying your meal and regretting it. Also keep in mind an awesome piece of advice that registered dietitian Jennifer Motl shared years ago: Don’t waste calories on things you don’t really love. Indulge in the treats you crave most, not the ones that just happen to be in front of you on a buffet table.
  • Before buying gifts, think about how you’ll feel afterward. Will you end up with a sinking feeling from spending money you don’t really have? Financial stress is huge this time of year. A deal is only a deal for people who can afford it.
  • Go for a walk. Carve out 20 or 30 minutes as many days as possible to get some exercise and fresh air. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that can help you slough off whatever tension comes your way.
  • Count your blessings. Giving thanks isn’t just a tradition—it’s a way of improving your health. Research shows people who are regularly in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to sleep better and feel emotionally upbeat.
  • Have a plan for handling stress. If big gatherings tend to leave you feeling drained, leave room in your days for quiet down time. If cooking for a big group is overwhelming, have a potluck dinner instead. And if a family member stresses you out, “give yourself an escape,” said local therapist Beatrice Kerr, of Creative Healing Solutions. Carve out time to hang out with a favorite relative. Go for a jog. Or, if you’re away from home and can afford it, get a hotel room so you can quietly recharge your emotional batteries. “Taking care of yourself will make the holiday more enjoyable for you and your family,” Kerr said.

For more advice on how to healthfully navigate the holiday season, plan to attend a community gathering Dec. 4 featuring three guest speakers:

  • Dr. Nimali Fernando, founder of the  Doctor Yum Project, which promotes healthy eating for families
  • Registered dietitian Nancy Farrell, of Farrell Dietitian Services in Fredericksburg
  • Becky Tate, a Caroline County woman who has transformed her life through diet and exercise

The gathering, sponsored by Healthy Life Virginia, will take place at 7 p.m. at the John F. Fick III Conference Center, behind the Lloyd F. Moss Free Clinic at 1301 Sam Perry Blvd., in Fredericksburg. For details, send a note to